A special board is awaiting guidance from Governor Mike Parson about whether to continue its work to recommend life or death for a man convicted of murder. The panel has been reviewing the case of Marcellus Williams, who was given the death penalty for the stabbing death of former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle. She was found dead in her University City apartment in 1998.
The board canceled its meeting this week and its work is up in the air because of the change of power in the Governor’s Office. Parson was sworn in as governor on Friday, after fellow Republican Eric Greitens resigned.
Last August, Greitens blocked Williams’ execution hours before the procedure could have been carried out. He instead ordered the creation of a Board of Inquiry. Members have been charged with considering whether Williams should be put to death. Greitens cited inconclusive DNA evidence prompting him to stop the execution.
During a gathering on Tuesday at the Missouri Supreme Court, a group of about 20 people called on the board to finish its work and for the release of Williams, who has been in prison for 18 years.
“Today is a day about Marcellus Williams,” said Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel. “Marcellus Williams is a man who needs justice now more than ever.”
Williams’ son, Marcellus Williams II, said there are too many inconsistencies in the case for his father to be put to death.
The prosecution said Williams broke into Gayle’s home while she was taking a shower and surprised him – prompting him to stab Gayle repeatedly.
“My father is 6’6”. At the time, about 235 pounds. This woman – Lisha Gayle – was a very small woman. Somebody did murder this woman – fact. It wasn’t my father. He would not have needed to stab this woman 40 times. It makes no sense,” said Williams.
Another piece of evidence the prosecution used was a cellmate at a local jail, Henry Cole, telling other prisoners that Williams confessed to the murder. Laura Asaro, Williams’ girlfriend, also testified on the state’s behalf.
“One of the witnesses, she claimed that my father had the victim’s license. The license was found at the scene (at the victim’s home). She also claimed there were scratches on my father’s neck from the victim but there was no DNA under her fingernails. Also, there was another man’s fingerprints on the murder weapon. A footprint and hair follicles found at the scene did not match his father’s,” Williams told Missourinet.
Other evidence included a laptop belonging to Gayle’s husband. Williams allegedly sold and police recovered the computer. Police also found some of the victim’s personal items in the trunk of the car Williams drove.
“Her husband, he has since remarried. He and his new wife have come on record and said they can’t get closure because they feel my father is truly innocent of this crime,” he said.
According to Williams, his father had a jury made up of nearly all white individuals.
“It’s sad to say but this system was kind of built against minorities. These people get it wrong too many times,” he said.
Williams, 27, said his father has maintained innocence throughout the years by refusing to take any deals that would remove his name from the execution list.
In a statement from Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, he said capital punishment has disproportionately and unjustly stricken the impoverished and minorities.
“Although I believe that capital punishment should be abolished in its entirety, in this case it would be particularly egregious as new DNA evidence has come to light – evidence that in the eyes of any reasonable prosecutor and jury would exonerate this man,” said Franks. “Martin Luther King once said there comes a time when silence is betrayal. We cannot sit silent while an innocent man sits on death row.”
Parson Spokeswoman Kelli Jones told reporters the governor has not had a chance to review the case.
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